Governor Patrick set to address problems of DCF

Governor Deval Patrick plans to publicly address on Monday controversial issues plaguing the state’s Department of Children and Families, which has been under scrutiny since Jeremiah Oliver, a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy under state care, went missing. He is now feared dead.

Earlier on Monday, before his public address, Patrick is scheduled to meet with the Child Welfare League of America, which will complete an independent review of the agency.

“He has some areas that he wants this outside agency to focus on, and he has some concerns based on information that came out in last week’s report,” Brendan Ryan, the governor’s chief of staff, said Sunday.


The report, conducted by the Office of the Child Advocate and released Thursday, found that state social workers apparently failed to make nearly 1 in 5 required monthly home visits in 2013.

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The report suggested that the issues were systemic, going beyond a few workers who failed for seven months to ensure that visits were made to Jeremiah and his family.

Gail Garinger, who runs the Office of the Child Advocate, which is an independent office charged with overseeing state agencies that work with children, met Sunday with the governor, as did several other department heads and legislators.

Patrick also met with the DCF Commissioner Olga I. Roche; Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz; and leaders of SEIU Local 509, which represents social workers, Ryan said.

The union has been vocal about their members’ concerns over caseloads, which have been consistently higher at offices throughout the state than mandated under contract. In his 2015 budget proposal, Patrick proposed investing $9 million to help the department reach its 15-to-1 caseload goal.


On Sunday, Patrick also spoke on the phone with state Representatives David P. Linsky and Kay Khan, who co-led a legislative hearing Thursday, and state Senate minority leader Bruce Tarr, Ryan said.

At the hearing held by two legislative committees, lawmakers vented their outrage at the handling of the case.

“Your department lost track of a kid,” Linsky, chairman of the House Post Audit and Oversight Committee, told Roche on Thursday. “That’s inexcusable. That’s absolutely inexcusable.”

Khan chairs the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities.

Authorities learned Jeremiah Oliver was missing late last year after his 7-year-old sister told Fitchburg school officials that she and her siblings were being abused. She said when she last saw Jeremiah in September, his hand was bleeding and their mother was worried that he would die from the wound.


The social worker who failed to visit Jeremiah and two supervisors have been fired.

Jeremiah’s mother, Elsa Oliver, 28, and her boyfriend, Alberto L. Sierra Jr., 22, face charges of abusing the boy, but neither has been charged with killing him. They have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Information from the State House News Service contributed to this report.
Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at